Increasing reusability of open courses through transparent design

In my last blog post, I replied to Wayne Mackintosh’s question about how to design open courses for reuse. I focused on the technical aspects of designing open courses using closed (in the sense of password-protected) platforms. Wayne’s comment on that post has really got me thinking, and this post is a continuation of the conversation with him. In a nutshell, Wayne is asking whether there are ways of overcoming the technical limitations of transferring open courses from platform to platform, by ‘smart design’. This is a great question, and goes to the heart of the purpose of storyboarding, which is to create a visual representation of the course design so that all members of the design team can see, more or less at a glance, how the course is intended to unfold, and how each element of the course (learning outcomes, assessment tasks, learning activities, and resources for learning) will support the others. A further purpose of storyboards, which has been little discussed in the debates about learning design as far as I’m aware, is to enable a completely different teacher or course team to take an existing open course, and reuse it for a completely different audience. So the short answer to your latest question, Wayne, is that the storyboard itself is an ideal tool for the uptake of open education on a massive scale, in that it enables reuse of courses without the necessity for the original course designer(s) to sit down with potential new course design teams and explain what they had in mind.

We know from research into course design at the Open University that course design is a very messy process, and any attempts by administrators to impose template-driven structures on academics to try to speed up the process or make it more efficient tend to be met with either disinterest or disdain.  There is something very personal about designing a course, and something very exciting about being part of a team that develops a course (as I can attest from my experience of working with Brenda on developing the Storyboarding OOC), and asking course leaders to simply take a pre-packaged course designed and developed by someone else and reuse it has never been part of the culture of teaching in higher education. However, a range of tried-and-tested visual representation tools (not just storyboards, but also course maps and activity profile sheets, to name some other examples from the OU) exist for course design. It is my hypothesis that sharing these representations as OERs, alongside the openly licensed resources for course content, will enable other course designers to understand the spirit and context of the original design and quickly make decisions about which elements they want to retain ‘as-is’, and which elements they want to change. The ownership of the new version of the course would remain clearly in the hands of the new course team, but they would have enough guidance to redesign the course quite quickly and efficiently.

I would be very interested to hear of any experiences that other course designers have had in this regard, and whether anyone can either validate or discount my hypothesis. Wayne, perhaps when you remix the materials from the Storyboarding OOC for the OERu mOOC on Digital Skills for Collaborative Development, it will be possible to test the idea? Also, if the OERu is already using a visual representation for their course design then maybe it would be worth comparing the usefulness of different visual formats in facilitating reuse. I would be very interested in following any discussions around this topic.

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The conundrum of creating an open course in a closed site – Storyboard OOC update

This is an update on the preparations for the Storyboarding for Learning Design OOC (open online course) that I will be running with Brenda Padilla from 12 Jan to 20 Feb 2015. Following on from my last post about storyboarding the storyboarding OOC, I want to share some of our latest thinking about the logistics of offering an open course. The post is mainly in response to a question from Wayne Mackintosh, leader of the OERu, a global consortium of higher education institutions aiming to enable millions of non-formal, open learners to achieve full qualifications by studying online.  Wayne’s question was as follows:

What are the design implications for developing MOOCs for reuse and delivery across multiple platforms?

In response, I would like to say that this course might not be the best test case for such a research question. We have deliberately used the label ‘OOC’ as opposed to ‘MOOC’, in order to dispel any expectations of massiveness from the start. We are just two individuals who want to share our experience of learning design with others. We are also very keen for the OOC to be a catalyst for the sharing of some real storyboards, produced for real courses, under open licences on the Web, for reuse and modification by other course designers around the world. We hope that the OOC will help bring together a community of practitioners who want to learn about storyboarding and are interested in collaborating with others in the process, and that the resources produced for – and as a result of – the OOC will be of value to the open education sector.

With that in mind, the infrastructure we are setting up for the OOC will be rather simple, but we hope, also replicable by other providers after the first iteration. Actually we would be delighted if the OOC (in part or whole) were to be reused in future open courses run by institutions with accrediting powers. We would also like the resources we create for the OOC (which will all be published as Free Cultural Works) to be made available to the wider public, so that even people who are not enrolled on the OOC can access them, and they remain available after the end of the OOC itself. We are therefore developing all the course materials in Google Docs – starting with the storyboard itself for the OOC (version in-progress available here – warning: this is changing on a daily basis at the moment!) All the activities and supporting resources will be made available as Google Docs and linked to from this Storyboard page, which will be evolving over the next few weeks.

The course itself will be offered via the Blackboard CourseSites platform. The reasons for this are that (a) it’s free, (b) the platform allows individuals (not just institutions) to create courses there, and (c) Brenda and I are familiar with it. We chose to use a platform that requires people to have accounts and sign in, in order to be able to set up and manage the groups effectively. (The question of groups in a MOOC/OOC is a separate topic – I’ll blog about it in another post.) The actual storyboards that participants produce will probably be created using other online tools, such as Prezi, Google Spreadsheets, Popplet, etc., and will be hosted on the servers of those providers. We will be encouraging participants to blog, tweet and otherwise publish the URLs to their emerging storyboards, and their reflections on the process, but we also wanted to provide them with a safe environment to develop their ideas in collaboration with peers on the course. We will also be encouraging participants to share the URLs to their storyboards via the Wikieducator wiki as a way of disseminating them within an existing open education community.

So, back to Wayne’s question: Wayne, if you were thinking of interoperability between MOOC platforms, we have not engaged with that question. The resources for the OOC will all be made freely available via the Storyboard itself, and this will contain a clear sequence and pathway through the activities and resources that it provides links to. Anyone who wanted to replicate the OOC (or offer it as part of a MOOC), would therefore need to manually set up the course on the platform of their choice. I know this isn’t the ideal solution, but to borrow a cliche that I think was originally said about politics, ‘OOC design is the art of the possible’!

In closing, as Brenda and I are both researchers, we would love to get suggestions for any research questions that we could focus on during the planning and delivery of the course. You can comment here or find us on Twitter (@twitthaus and @BrendaPadilla) – hashtag #sldooc. Looking forward to those questions…

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Storyboarding the Storyboarding OOC

Brenda Padilla and I are in the process of designing the Storyboarding OOC (open online course) which we will be running in the New Year, and since the starting point for designing a course is to create a storyboard, we have been working on just that, and we would like to share our work-in-progress with OOC participants and other interested readers. We plan to produce a few sample storyboards for the OOC using different online tools, in order to both illustrate a few of the tools that can be used for this purpose, and also to experience the ways in which a particular tool might influence the course design – for better or for worse.

The basic idea of a storyboard was developed by Walt Disney in the 1930s (see this Wikipedia page). According to Gilly Salmon, from whom I learnt about storyboarding for learning design, the spirit of storyboarding is big, bold, colourful and fun – and is best captured when working on a large sheet of paper (e.g. a flipchart) with coloured sticky notes and markers, as seen in the image below from Gilly’s Carpe Diem workshop in Berlin last week.

'Searching Faster Using Google' storyboard

Storyboard developed during Gilly Salmon’s Carpe Diem workshop at Online Educa Berlin 2014

Transferring the storyboard into an electronic format is ideally only done after one has done the flipchart version. However, as Brenda and I are in two different locations (Mexico and the UK), we have settled for going straight into an online format. Hopefully the OOC will not suffer too much for this – we will never know!

At the moment we are working on two versions of the storyboard – one in Google Spreadsheets and one in Popplet. (Warning – if you go into these links now you will see incomplete storyboards, or you may even see live changes taking place before your eyes!) The idea is to have the same information in each storyboard, with the only difference being in the format. These two formats lend themselves to quite different thinking processes – with Google Spreadsheets being rather rigid, forcing one into columns and rows, and the mindmapping tool Popplet being much freer, allowing one to add or delete ‘nodes’ anywhere on the page. I think Popplet captures the ‘Disney’ spirit of storyboarding better, and is more fun to work with, although it might be useful to eventually transfer the info into a spreadsheet format for ease of reference when you come to developing the course.

Other tools that could be used for storyboarding include LinoitPreziGliffy and Freemind. (Click here for an example of a storyboard on Linoit that was created for a course on Learning Design in the University of Leicester’s SPEED project in 2012-2013.) FreeMind and Google Spreadsheets are free, and the others have both free and paid versions. We’re hoping that participants in the OOC will try many different tools, and will share their experiences of using them. We are hoping to build up a bank of CC-licensed storyboards created for real courses, for reference and reuse by educators globally, so if anyone has any online storyboards that they would like to share already, please let us know – we’re watching this space!

In case anyone is wondering how I’m collaborating with Brenda in the preparation phase, it is through a combination of Google Hangouts for live voice chats (with a bit of video every now and then to show each other the various cats/dogs and family members that are in the background/ on our laps while we’re working), and Google Docs, where we develop our plans and will be developing and storing the e-tivities. Brenda is usually eating breakfast, and I’m usually preparing dinner while having our meet-ups, and we invariably end our real-time meet-ups when I become aware of the faint smell of burning from my kitchen, having become so absorbed in our conversation that I forgot to turn the oven off…

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Transferring that f2f magic to the online environment at OEB14

Yesterday I ran a workshop with Jeff Stanford at Online Educa Berlin. Participants came along with an existing course that they wanted to convert from face-to-face delivery mode into either blended or fully online learning. The course topics in the room ranged from business through family mediation to, intriguingly, swing dancing… (Oliver, the swing dance teacher, will be at the OEB anniversary celebration dinner tonight, leading us all in the face-to-face version of his course!)

Our aim was to transfer the ‘magic’ that exists in face-to-face teaching into the online or blended learning environment. There was great participation from the group, as can be seen from the photos – with thanks to the participants for giving their permission.

In the morning participants looked at the highlights of the courses in their current face-to-face form, and brainstormed ways in which they could transfer those highlights into the online version of their courses, and possibly even improve on the classroom experience – especially in terms of enabling deep interaction between learners. We discussed the possibilities of various tools both within the LMS/VLE, and on the open Web, and considered when it might be appropriate to use them.

A lot of hard work was done on storyboarding the designs for the new, online versions of the courses  in the afternoon. (If you’re at the conference and are interested in the concept of storyboarding for learning design, storyboarding supremo Gilly Salmon will be running a hands-on session with Janet Gregory on Friday morning.) Participants chose whether to use the big, bold, colourful technology of a flipchart sheet with coloured sticky notes, or a colour-coded spreadsheet template for storyboarding. (Template available in Google Spreadsheets here. Also see example of a storyboard, which is work-in-progress for the OOC on Storyboarding. More examples to come in different formats soon, including and Popplet – I’ll blog on those in the coming weeks.)

A few more links from the workshop:

  • Workshop handouts available here as OERs.
  • The Google Doc with participants’ ‘burning questions‘, which also includes a list of LMSs and web-conferencing tools used by participants, and some URLs added by participants during the day. We found it really useful having a running Google Doc live throughout the session, so that as questions or answers arose, people could add them there, and as suggestions were made of useful tools/ technologies, they could all be captured. It’s a great record for everyone to take away.
  • Jacob Christensen’s blog – he blogged about the workshop and promised he would be live-blogging all the sessions he attends at OEB.

Post script: I was interested to hear from Joanne Roxburgh of Kaplan that in her instructional design context, the term storyboarding is used to refer to the creation of a script for the content that is to be authored – quite a different meaning from the idea of a storyboard as a plan for the whole course, showing the alignment between learning outcomes, assessment, learning activities and content. This was a good reminder to always clarify terminology at the start of a session!

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Good-bye Institute of Learning Innovation, University of Leicester

On 31 December 2014 the Institute of Learning Innovation (previously Beyond Distance Research Alliance) will close down. This is the end of a significant chapter for me and several colleagues, and I would venture to say, also for the global distance/online learning community of which we have been a part since BDRA’s inception in 2004. Gilly Salmon brought me in to join the team in February 2009 and I had the privilege to be absorbed into a vibrant, multinational cast of characters (Ale from Uruguay, Palitha from Sri Lanka, Sahm from Ghana, Ming from China, Sandra from Bulgaria, Terese from the USA, Simon from England to mention a few) who were working on a range of exciting research projects around online and distance learning, innovation in learning technologies and pedagogies, open education, and learning design for higher education.

Gilly’s original concept for BDRA was a captivating one, wrapped up in a quirky metaphor: the Alliance’s remit was to collaborate with other researchers and practitioners on a range of studies, pushing the boundaries of research in the field and carrying out pilots to spearhead the use of new technologies in education – and the projects were all to be articulated within the overarching framework of the ‘Media Zoo’. The Zoo was explained in terms of a four-quadrant model with the axes of ‘New and Existing Technologies and Pedagogies’ and ‘New and Existing Markets and Missions’ . The four quadrants were Pets’ Corner, a Breeding Area, a Safari Park and an Exotics House, each with its own technological wildlife in the form of pedagogies and learning technologies. (Thanks to Matt Wheeler for the description.)

I was recruited to work on the JISC-funded DUCKLING project, being embedded as a teaching fellow in the School of Education’s Online MA in Applied Linguistics and TESOL course team to investigate the use of new technologies in this programme. (I am still an e-moderator on that programme and thus will retain my association with Leicester University after my ILI contract ends.) Subsequent projects for me focused on open education (OTTER, OSTRICH, and my SCORE fellowship TOUCANS), and also learning design, in the form of the Carpe Diem process – I had the opportunity, for which I’m very grateful, to develop and run various versions of the Carpe Diem workshop for teams of academics at several institutions around the UK, and also for SAIDE in South Africa.

In late 2010, Gilly got an offer she couldn’t refuse in Australia, made all the more irresistible for her by the continent’s rich history in distance and online learning and its cornucopia of exotic wildlife. Leicester simply couldn’t compete. We welcomed Grainne Conole from the Open University as our new director in September 2011. Our name changed to Institute of Learning Innovation, and the Carpe Diem process evolved into The 7Cs of Learning Design. The nature of our work shifted towards EU-funded projects, including POERUP which I worked on in 2012, and the OpenCred study, which will be my last project at Leicester.

Back to the closure of the Institute, the obvious question is: why? We have been told by administration that it is for ‘cost-cutting’ purposes. In an email from the Registrar to staff and students of the Institute, the following explanation was given:

This has not been an easy decision for the University and as I have stressed to Grainne and Pal directly it should, in no way, be seen as a reflection on the good work of the Institute and the commitment of the staff who have been involved with it since it evolved from BDRA. The decision has been driven entirely by financial considerations.

Perhaps this reflects, in a very small way, the general upheaval in higher education in the UK since the implementation of the dramatic fee increase for students in 2012. The sad truth is that in a time where the survival of universities is measured in financial terms, a research institute like ILI is unable to justify its existence. We do not have undergraduate students, whose fees can amass to look impressive on an income sheet. We do have PhD students, but the high staff-student ratio for post-grads cancels out any financial value they may add. We do receive consultancy fees for services provided to outside agencies, but we are first and foremost a research institute, and our research projects often run at a loss because of the usual funders’ requirement for matched funding from the institution. If the Institute’s value were to be measured in terms of contribution of new knowledge to the field of open and distance learning, I think its future would look very different.

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Some thoughts about CPD for academics who teach online

I was recently asked by a colleague to make some recommendations for a continuing professional development (CPD) programme for academics who teach online at a UK university, and thought I would share this on my blog in case it is of use to others. The recommendations that follow are drawn from selected literature which mainly reflects my own experience of curriculum design and development, particularly the JISC-funded projects carried out by the Institute of Learning Design at the University of Leicester in partnership with a range of other UK universities.

  1. A lifelong learning perspective is more likely to be helpful than one-off ‘training’ courses

The approach I am most familiar with for CPD of academics who teach online is the Carpe Diem model (Salmon and Wright 2014), which was originally developed at the University of Leicester in 2006-2007. Leicester was also one of the participating institutions in the Open University’s OULDI project (Cross et al 2012), in which some of the learning design tools developed at the OU were incorporated into the Carpe Diem workshop. The model subsequently evolved into what is now called ‘The 7Cs of Learning Design’ at Leicester, while variations on the Carpe Diem theme are successfully used at several other universities in the UK and Australia.

In a Carpe Diem workshop, the facilitator helps participants to critically reflect on their existing course designs and to redesign their courses following a structured, team-based process. The workshop comprises a few essential tasks, such as discussing within course teams the desired look and feel of the course; reviewing the learning outcomes and assessment tools and ensuring that these are in alignment; developing a storyboard which illustrates the alignment between learning outcomes, assessment, social learning tasks (e-tivities), and content; developing e-tivities; and getting a ‘reality checker’ (someone from outside of the course team) to try out some of the e-tivities. The workshop always ends with participants developing their own action plans.

This process is not done on a one-off basis, but is rather intended to be reiterated every time the course team members revise their courses. With each new iteration, the academics have the opportunity to share with one another what worked well and what did not work well the last time they delivered the course, and over time, they build up a shared knowledge base and a sense of trust in their community of peers to help them solve problems related to delivery of their courses. The commitment to lifelong learning by teaching staff is also important in enabling them to play the role of ‘professional role model’ for their students (Kuluska-Hulme 2012).

  1. Teamwork and collaboration are critical to successful development and innovation

An essential part of the Carpe Diem process is that module leaders work within their course teams to revise and improve their modules. It is also useful for faculty from widely differing subject areas to work together in this regard. Providing an environment in which lecturers can engage in dialogue with other academics from outside of their immediate circle – for example colleagues working in a different discipline, and also colleagues with differing levels of teaching experience (Pataraia et al 2014) – exposes individuals to new and potentially useful ideas and practices. I have seen this working especially well when some members of the group have trialled a new approach in their modules (for example, incorporating discussion forum tasks into formative or summative assessment) and they are given time in the workshop to share information, concerns and insights on what happened in the pilot.

The community that is formed during the Carpe Diem workshops is often also strengthened in the time between workshops, as colleagues realise the value of engaging in dialogue with one another about their teaching practice on an ongoing basis. The workshops themselves then become the milestones when module leaders can consolidate what they have learnt since the last workshop, and when new module leaders are welcomed into the community.

  1. Experiencing online learning can be helpful for online teaching staff

Most teaching staff teach as they themselves were taught; however, few have experienced online learning themselves. For this reason, learning to teach online often takes academics out of their comfort zone and enables real transformation to take place in their understanding of learning and teaching (McQuiggan 2012). I have seen academics solicit feedback from learners with a much more open mind than they would in traditional, face-to-face education, simply because they did not have any preconceived ideas of how the learners might respond to innovations in online delivery. I have also seen academics experience a significant ‘Aha’ moment when they personally experience what it is like to be an online learner. Giving staff and associates the opportunity to participate in an online CPD programme themselves is one way of provoking creative and critical thinking about the design and delivery of their own online courses.

If it is not feasible to offer such a CPD programme in-house, faculty could be encouraged to participate in one of the free, open courses available online, in which they can learn and share knowledge with a wider, global community of practice. Below are a few current examples of relevant open courses:

These or similar courses could be recommended to staff by their line managers during annual appraisals, as a complement to the courses offered by the institution’s own Staff Development department. Staff could also be encouraged to find their own open courses on topics of particular interest and relevance to them. Many massive online open courses (MOOCs) now offer completion certificates or even credit-bearing certificates, and these certificates could be used to build up a portfolio by staff with a particular interest in developing their teaching practice.

  1. Useful knowledge and skills for online teachers in HE

While it is debatable whether all teaching staff require an in-depth knowledge of education theories, I have found that many academics appreciate being given the opportunity to learn about the following topics. Recommended readings/ resources are mentioned next to each item. 

  • Learning design principles and approaches (JISC Design Studio; ADDIE model and related resources – infographic by the Australia National VET E-learning Strategy)
  • A brief history of distance learning (Anderson & Dron 2010)
  • Assessment principles and practice (e.g. Re-engineering Assessment Practices in Scottish Higher Education (REAP) website and JISC Technology-Enhanced Assessment programme)
  • How to formulate learning outcomes for learners at different levels (e.g. the University of Gloucester’s ‘Co-generative Toolkit’)
  • Which technologies are useful and for what purposes (University of Oxford’s Phoebe Project; York University’s ‘Using blogs for student reflection, content generation and just-in-time feedback’; Mark Pegrum and the University of Western Australia’s ‘E-learning with Web 2.0’)
  • The role of social presence in online learning (Gunawardena & Zittle 1997; Kear 2010)
  • The different types of interaction that affect the learning process, and key considerations for learning designers to bear in mind regarding interaction for learners (Miyazoe and Anderson 2010)
  • An example of a framework for structuring student engagement through a whole course (Gunawardena 2006)
  • Designing online activities/ e-tivities (Salmon 2013)
  • Moderating/facilitating online learning (Salmon 2011)
  • Knowledge of open educational resources and how to access these (JISC OER Infokit)
  • Learning theories (HOTEL project’s infographic)
  • Key learning theorists (nicely summarised in Donald Clark’s blog, for example this post about Vygotsky)

While not an exhaustive list of topics, this is too long a list to be ‘covered’ in a single workshop, and these concepts are often dealt with more fully in a PGCE in those institutions that require their teaching staff to have a teaching qualification. Alternatively, they can be discussed in a series of lunchtime seminars/ webinars for those staff members who are interested in furthering their knowledge about learning and teaching.

  1. Evaluating online teaching and learning

Many academics are familiar with the concept of action research, in which the educator is both teacher and researcher. This approach is often not practised because of the lack of time for faculty to add any further tasks to their already pressured workload. An alternative way of evaluating the innovations that are implemented in teaching is therefore for lecturers to be partnered with a researcher who helps them to carry out a structured investigation of the problem, the intervention design, and the implementation and assessment, through a process referred to as design-based research (DBR) (Anderson and Shattuck 2012).

‘DBR is a methodology designed by and for educators that seeks to increase the impact, transfer and translation of education research into improved practice’ (Anderson and Shattuck 2012, p.16) The process involves educators designing and testing a significant intervention in a real educational context, with the aim of overcoming a specific problem or improving practice in a particular way. Data is gathered and analysed using whatever methods are most appropriate and practical. A key element of the approach is that it involves multiple iterations, with each iteration aimed at improving teaching practice, and simultaneously providing further data to be analysed. This evolution through multiple iterations is a normal part of any design process – the difference with DBR is that a more rigorous approach is taken to documenting and analysing the impact of modifications made in each iteration. In this way, DBR is an ongoing process that supports the lifecycle of the course it is focused on. The final phase of DBR involves looking for generalisations that could benefit other faculty teaching in a similar context, providing valuable input for the next round of workshops with the module leaders.


Anderson, T. & Dron, J., 2010. Three generations of distance education pedagogy. The International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning, 12(3), pp.80–97. Available at: [Accessed June 18, 2012].

Anderson, T. & Shattuck, J., 2012. Design-Based Research: A Decade of Progress in Education Research? Educational Researcher, 41, pp.16–25. Available at:

Cross, S. et al., 2012. OULDI-JISC Project Evaluation Report: the impact of new curriulum design tools and approaches on institutional process and design cultures, Milton Keynes, UK. Available at:

Gunawardena, C. & Zittle, F.J., 1997. Social presence as a predictor of satisfaction within a computer‐mediated conferencing environment. American Journal of Distance Education, 11(3), pp.8–26.

Gunawardena, C. et al., 2006. New model, new strategies: instructional design for building online wisdom communities. Distance Education, 27(2), pp.217–32. Available at:

Kear, K., 2010. Social presence in online learning communities. In Proceedings of the 7th International Conference on Networked Learning 2010. Aalborg, Denmark. Available at:

Kukulska-Hulme, A., 2012. How should the higher education workforce adapt to advancements in technology for teaching and learning? The Internet and Higher Education, 15(4), pp.247–254. Available at:

McQuiggan, C.A., 2012. Faculty Development for Online Teaching as a Catalyst for Change. Journal of Asynchronous Learning Networks, 16(2), pp.27–61.

Miyazoe, T. & Anderson, T., 2010. The Interaction Equivalency Theorem. Journal of Interactive Online Learning, 9(2), pp.94–104. Available at:

Pataraia, N. et al., 2014. Discovering academics’ key learning connections: An ego-centric network approach to analysing learning about teaching. Journal of Workplace Learning, 26(1), pp.56–72. Available at: (Accessed 20 October 2014).

Salmon, G., 2011. E-Moderating: The Key to Online Teaching and Learning 2nd Ed., London, New York: Routledge.

Salmon, G., 2013. E-tivities: The key to active online learning 2nd editio. Routledge, ed., London, New York.

Salmon, G. & Wright, P., 2014. Transforming Future Teaching through “Carpe Diem” Learning Design. Education Sciences, 4, pp.52–63.

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Accredible’s self-proctoring tool to offer new opportunities for open learners

I just had a very interesting conversation with Danny King, CEO of the open learning recognition platform, Accredible. This young startup company aims to provide a new way for people to get credentials for their open, online learning, by providing tools to enable certification for successful performance in MOOC assessments, as well as a platform for MOOC learners to showcase their open learning achievements to potential employers or education institutions.

Danny’s ambition is that credentials for higher education should ultimately be fundamentally transformed so that the credential itself contains evidence of the learner’s abilities, rather than simply relying on the brand name of the university for credibility. This is technically feasible now, and we are already seeing the idea being implemented in the form of online badges (such as via the Mozilla Backpack Open Badges initiative); however, these initiatives provide a relatively low level of formal recognition in comparison to diploma and degree certificates.

One of the key obstacles to be overcome when credentialing online learners is providing assessment that is robust enough to assure potential future employers/ education institutions that the candidate did not cheat. To this end, the student’s identity needs to be verified, and there needs to be some form of supervision during the assessment. Identity verification can be done using Coursera’s Signature Track technology, and companies such as ProctorU offer real-time monitoring of students taking assessments via web-cams. However, these services come at a cost – for Signature Track it is between 30 and 100 USD per course, and online proctoring costs more.

Accredible is planning to offer an alternative method called ‘self-proctoring’. The idea is that an open learner could choose to do an exam any time that suits them. Upon starting the exam, a recording of the student’s screen and face would be activated. At the end of the exam, the recording would be summarised into a 2-minute time lapse video, which would be embedded in the certificate awarded. The cost is likely to be around $5 per certificate. This would offer students flexibility (they don’t have to do the exam in real-time) as well as affordability, while the time-lapse video would provide direct evidence of how the student behaved during the exam to anyone who views the certificate. Of course this system is not as watertight as an onsite exam, but it provides a level of rigour in assessment that may well be sufficient for many employers and education institutions. I’m looking forward to seeing self-proctoring launched.

My discussion with Danny King was held as part of the OpenCred study, which I am working on with colleagues at Leicester’s Institute for Learning Innovation, for the EU Joint Research Council’s Institute for Prospective Technological Studies (IPTS) OpenEdu project. This blog post reflects my personal views, and not those of IPTS.

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Blurring the boundaries between ‘taught courses’, ‘distance learning’ and open education

Several UK universities that offer both campus-based and distance learning present their offerings on their websites as a choice between ‘taught courses’, ‘research programmes’ and ‘distance learning’ (or ‘online courses’ or some variant thereof). I think this terminology is interesting: the distinction between taught courses and research makes sense, but the implication for distance/online learning is that there is no teaching on those courses. Of course we all know this is not true – the days of Virtual Learning Environments being used solely as content repositories are well behind us. (At least in the courses I’ve been involved with.) Nevertheless, in my experience it is still commonplace to find that the campus-based programme and the online version use different materials, have different structures, use a different approach to assessment, and are managed by different individuals.

The reasons for this are many and sometimes complicated: the course materials are often written to fit a time-based structure and course length may be different in the two modes. If different individuals are responsible for ‘delivering’ each version of the course, they may have different ideas on what the course should include, what should be emphasised in assessment and so on. Audio and video materials from the Web that are made available to distance learning students may get overlooked by campus-based course leaders. The result is that two versions of the course may coexist in parallel, and whatever innovation occurs in one strand is not necessarily shared with the other. Both modes are the poorer for this.

What  if course teams were to sit down together and jointly review their parallel versions, taking the best from each, and streamlining their resources to provide a dynamic core with flexible components to cater for the specifics of each delivery mode?

And then… what if… selected elements of the programme were made open? For example, the content (in the form of open educational resources), the teaching (in the form of massive or little open online courses), and even the assessment (using secure online proctoring systems). One positive spinoff, I think, would be the higher levels of quality that course leaders would aspire to, knowing that their work was going to be available to all the world. An obvious risk would be that fee-paying students would stop paying fees, but this could be avoided by using ‘freemium’ models and not offering entire programmes in this way.

If you were asked to create radical, positively disruptive transformation at a UK HEI, you could start by gathering together the energetic, forward-thinking academics from across a range of disciplines in the institution, and brainstorming with them ways of creating permeable boundaries between ‘taught courses’, ‘distance learning’ and open education. Any takers?

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Opportunities for Peacemakers to become PeaceMOOCers?

I have just completed a Post Graduate Certificate course in Mediation through through Robert Gordon University in Scotland (and am awaiting results of final assessments…) The course, which was run through the Law School, was fascinating and I thoroughly enjoyed being exposed to a whole new world of professional activity. I chose this course because, although RGU is located in Aberdeen, which is 8.5 hours’ travel time from Leicester on the train, the course was offered by distance and students were only required to attend one week-long residential session.

It has occurred to me that many people around the world may not be so lucky. The Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution offerings from universities around the world are surprisingly inflexible: a mini research project that I carried out recently with the help of my niece, Jess, identified around 50 English-language universities that are offering courses in this subject area – mostly in Europe and North America. (The research is ongoing however, and we may well have only scratched the tip of the iceberg.) Of those 50 identified, less than a handful have distance learning components, and in addition, the fees charged by American and European universities make these courses completely inaccessible to the vast majority of potentially interested students in other countries.

One possible solution for would-be peacemakers lies in MOOCs – Massive, Online Open Courses – which are generally free of charge and seem to be offered in every conceivable discipline now. A further quick search raised the following MOOCs with keywords ‘peace’ and ‘conflict resolution’:

While these MOOCs provide wonderful opportunities for students who are interested in world history, politics and international relations, I was hoping to find some more practical courses focusing on things like conflict intervention or mediation. Perhaps I need to search further, or perhaps such MOOCs do not yet exist. I will be scratching a bit deeper over the coming weeks in my quest to add to the list of MOOCs to help other avid peacemakers become peaceMOOCers… and would appreciate any tips or pointers that anyone can provide.

If you are interested in this topic, I recommend the excellent blog post by Maha Hilal at the Peace and Collaborative Development Network (affiliated to the UN’s University of Peace): Emerging Trends in Online Education: A Resource Guide to Massive Open Online Courses.

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Seeking examples of accreditation of non-formal learning in Europe

I am currently working with colleagues at Leicester’s Institute of Learning Innovation on a small study, nicknamed OpenCred, which will feed into the EU-funded OpenEdu project. The focus is on identifying practices in European institutions of higher and vocational education that support or enable the accreditation of non-formal learning, for example self-study via OERs or active participation in MOOCs or other types of non-formal learning. The study will also try to ascertain whether any Europe-based professional bodies recognise such accreditation, to the extent that it exists. This is an exciting area of research for me, as it follows on from the TOUCANS project in 2012, in which I looked at the emerging collaboration between post-secondary institutions in the global OERu consortium, and investigated perceptions within UK-based institutions towards this approach to widening participation in higher education. The OpenCred study will be carried out between now and November 2014.

If anyone has any information about innovative accreditation practices for non-formal learning in any EU countries, please could you post a comment here or send us info/ links via twitter. (I’m @twitthaus and my colleagues on the project are Grainne Conole – @gconole, Bernard Nkuyubwatsi – @Nkbe1, and Mark Childs – @markchilds). Many thanks!

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